The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Elizabeth-Jane must endure Henchard’s sudden change in behavior towards her. He confessed the truth of her parentage with affection and emotion, but from the next day onward he is cold to her. He often grows angry at her use of commonplace, or low-class, words or phrases, such “bide as you be” rather than “stay where you are.” Elizabeth-Jane is already working to improve herself and her mind by reading, and Henchard, as a man of low origin himself, often unfairly criticizes her lack of breeding. Elizabeth-Jane changes her speech to reflect her position as the mayor’s daughter and her father’s wishes.
Henchard’s behavior toward Elizabeth-Jane changes dramatically when he discovers she is not his daughter. He cannot see the situation from Elizabeth-Jane’s perspective and acts as if he blames her for hiding a secret she did not know. He projects his emotions onto Elizabeth-Jane, criticizing her unfairly. Elizabeth-Jane focuses on these criticisms, not understanding what motivates them.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
One evening when Henchard is meeting with a gentleman on business, he calls Elizabeth-Jane in to write down an agreement between the men. He is ashamed to see her bold, inelegant handwriting, and dismisses her, saying he will finish writing himself.
This is one of many examples of Henchard projecting his anger at the truth of Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage onto a small fault of the young woman’s.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Elizabeth-Jane natural consideration for others also sparks Henchard’s anger when she thanks the maid or does something herself instead of ringing for assistance. Such behavior reveals her self-sufficient, lower class upbringing. Despite Henchard’s outbursts, Elizabeth-Jane prefers his passion to his neglect, which becomes more frequent as she schools herself into a proper young lady.
One of Elizabeth-Jane’s “faults” as Henchard sees them is her unawareness of her station as a relatively wealthy young woman. She is used to doing things for herself and so continues this behavior. Henchard wants her to demonstrate her station—and uphold his own reputation—by relying on the servants.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Elizabeth-Jane often provides a small meal or drinks for one of Henchard’s workers, a woman named Nance Mockridge. Henchard sees this and exclaims that Elizabeth-Jane will shame him for lowering herself to wait on such a woman. Nance, overhearing this, says that Elizabeth-Jane once waited on others of lower character for hire at The King of Prussia. Elizabeth-Jane admits the truth of this information.
Elizabeth-Jane’s one evening of service at The King of Prussia resurfaces to shame Henchard, as Susan had feared it would. This is the final straw for Henchard. He does not see Elizabeth-Jane’s resourcefulness, only her actions, although in the past, as going against his wishes.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
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From that day onward, Henchard showed an obvious distaste for the girl who is not his own daughter. He often leaves her alone for meals and she fills her solitary hours by learning Latin and studying incessantly. Elizabeth-Jane continues her quiet and lonely existence, crushing, through force of will, her interest in Farfrae whom she had been forbidden to see.
Henchard stops complaining about Elizabeth-Jane and starts ignoring her. Elizabeth-Jane is incredibly lonely, and yet she remains obedient. She attempts to better herself and she does not see Farfrae because Henchard has forbidden her from doing so.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Although winter is arriving, on the nicer days Elizabeth-Jane walks in the morning to visit her mother’s grave. One morning, Elizabeth-Jane sees another woman in the graveyard standing at her mother’s grave and reading the tombstone. This other woman is much more finely dressed than Elizabeth-Jane, though also in mourning. Elizabeth-Jane’s nature is not envious, so she wonders about the woman, supposing her to be a stranger in Casterbridge. Eventually the woman leaves and Elizabeth-Jane returns home without speaking to her.
Elizabeth-Jane’s encounter with a finely dressed woman standing at her mother’s gravestone reveals Elizabeth-Jane’s modesty and hints at the identity of this new character. Elizabeth-Jane is not jealous of the other woman, but curious about her. The new woman is looking at Susan’s tombstone, which implies she has some knowledge of Susan and is curious about her death.
Themes
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At home, Henchard is particularly upset. His term for mayor is ending and Farfrae will be selected as a member of the Council, rather than himself. He also has learned that Farfrae was one whom Elizabeth-Jane waited on in The King of Prussia, which he considers another slight to his position and himself. He explodes at Elizabeth-Jane after she mistakenly uses the commonplace term “leery” to refer to her exhaustion.
Henchard’s is upset at Farfrae’s growing importance in the town, but he takes this anger out on Elizabeth-Jane. He has learned that she waited on Farfrae and he sees this as a victory of his enemy, and as Elizabeth-Jane having placed Farfrae above herself in importance and situation.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
Henchard contemplates his decision to warn Farfrae away from Elizabeth-Jane when he thought her his own daughter, whereas he now wishes his enemy would take the girl off his hands. He composes a note to Farfrae saying that he may court Elizabeth-Jane, so long as the business does not occur in his own home.
Henchard’s decision to encourage Farfrae’s suit of Elizabeth-Jane shows how his decisions on the matter of Elizabeth-Jane’s love life and her happiness have been entirely guided by his own interests.
Themes
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
The next morning, Elizabeth-Jane returns to the graveyard. Depressed and feeling the weight of her father’s scorn, she exclaims aloud, “I wish I was dead with dear mother.” The woman from the previous day is also revealed to be in the graveyard and she overhears Elizabeth-Jane. The woman asks about her dead mother and then inquires after her father, who she knows to be Mr. Henchard.
Elizabeth-Jane’s quiet persistence hides the extent of her sadness. She is only able to reveal this when she thinks herself totally alone. Her wish to be dead shows her deep loneliness. The finely dresses woman appears at that moment, as if she is the answer to a prayer.
Themes
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Elizabeth-Jane tells the woman of her history and her quarrel with Henchard. The woman seems strangely unable to criticize Henchard, insisting that he cannot be a bad man, while at the same comforting Elizabeth-Jane, who is all too willing to admit her own fault in the situation. The woman is not shocked by Elizabeth-Jane’s tale, and invites the young woman to come live in her own house, as her companion. Elizabeth-Jane enthusiastically agrees, saying that she would love to be independent from her father, but quickly says she is not accomplished and lady-like, as a companion must be. The woman says she is moving to Casterbridge, and the two agree to meet again the following week, once Elizabeth-Jane has thought over her proposal.
The woman’s offer of companionship appears at the ideal moment in Elizabeth-Jane’s life. Her loneliness and her poor treatment at Henchard’s hands could both be resolved by moving in with her new friend. This woman’s high opinion of Henchard hints at her having a past connection with him. This woman does not receive the full story of Henchard’s mistreatment because of Elizabeth-Jane’s propensity to blame herself, and so this woman continues to believe Henchard an entirely good man.
Themes
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon